but does nothing, are they still crimes?" Jonathan Turley
While Jonathan Turley and many others are focused right now on the crimes of the Bush administration, as well they should be, we should also recognize that this pattern is nothing new. The powers that be have been sanitizing U.S. history since its inception.
At least we’ve made some progress. Most Americans now recognize slavery as an evil, though we were told at the time when slavery was legal in our country that it was good for our slaves, and that they appreciated it. Some far right wingers, such as Pat Buchanan, even today try to push that old line.
Notwithstanding some degree of progress with regard to events of the distant past, the sanitization of history has never stopped in our country. Here are some examples:
The beginnings of U.S. overseas imperialism
U.S. overseas imperialism began in 1893 when we made Hawaii an American protectorate, and it really got going with the Spanish-American war, beginning in 1898. Our rationale for the Spanish-American War was that Spain blew up an American battleship (the cause was never determined) and to bring freedom to the Cuban people, who were fighting a rebellion against Spain.
We won the war and promptly declared control over the former Spanish colonies of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Unlike Cuba and Puerto Rico, the Filipinos didn’t give in so easily. A three and a half year vicious guerilla war ensued, resulting in the deaths of 16 thousand Filipino guerillas, 20 thousand Filipino civilians and 4,374 American soldiers. I’ve discussed this issue in much greater detail in this post.
Yet few Americans learn that our country has in many respects acted as an imperialist power for much of its history. Our ruling elite indignantly deny or ignore that charge whenever they hear it. Imperialism is hard to admit to, since it is inconsistent with the principles upon which our country was founded.
The effect of FDR’s New Deal on the Great Depression
When Franklyn Roosevelt began his presidency in 1933, our nation was in the midst of the greatest depression in our history. Our annual gross domestic product had been nearly cut in half since the Stock Market Crash of three and a half years previously, and unemployment stood at 25%. Within four years of taking office, GDP rose to about 90% of where it had been prior to the Stock Market Crash. In FDR’s first term in office our country experienced a 5.3% increase in jobs – the greatest percent increase in jobs of the past 20 presidential terms, from 1929 to 2009. As a result, the unemployment rate was approximately cut by more than 40% by the end of his first term. By 1941, prior to the onset of World War II, the unemployment rate had declined to below 10%.
The New Deal was so successful that it lasted for several decades, during which median family income rose steadily (in 2005 dollars) from $22,499 in 1947 to more than double that, $47,173 by 1980. This period has thus been referred to by Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman as the “greatest sustained economic boom in U.S. history” – a boom that produced a large and vibrant middle class in our country for the first time.
Yet, we have long been told that it was not the New Deal, but rather World War II that brought us out of the Great Depression. Today, right wingers go way further, telling us that the New Deal did nothing at all to help us, or even that the New Deal prolonged the Great Depression.
The reason for all this is clear. The New Deal, while making life far better for the vast majority of Americans by leveling the playing field, substantially cut into the wealth and power of our ruling elite. They have been striving ever since then to revise history, so as to make dismantling of the New Deal politically feasible and prevent it from making a comeback. I discuss this issue in much greater detail in this post.
The overthrow of numerous leftist governments during the Cold War
The Cold War (1945-91) was sold to the American people as a fight against totalitarian Communism. There is some truth to that assertion. The Soviet Union, against which the Cold War was conducted, was indeed a totalitarian state and did have expansionist impulses (though much less than we believed or claimed at the time).
But U.S. involvement in the Cold War was much more than a fight against the Soviet Union. We repeatedly used the Cold War as an excuse to overthrow sovereign governments that were not in any way controlled by the Soviet Union. In almost all instances, we overthrew leftist governments and replaced them with right wing dictatorships that were friendlier to the interests of the ruling elite in our country, but which had disastrous consequences for the indigenous people of the countries that we overthrew. Some early examples included Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Indonesia (1965), and Chile (1973). Our long involvement in Vietnam (1954-73) was the consequence of the fact that we refused to accept the Geneva Conference Agreements, which officially ended the war between France and Vietnam in 1954, and provided for general elections which were to bring about the unification of Vietnam. Instead, knowing that elections would result in a Communist victory, we intervened to prevent the elections from taking place, against the wishes of most of the Vietnamese people. As described in William Blum’s article, “A Concise History of US Global Interventions, 1945 to the Present”, the United States intervened in eleven different South and Central American countries during the Cold War, including Guatemala, Costa Rica, British Guyana, Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. A more detailed account of this issue is discussed in this post.
The assassination of John F. Kennedy
There is so much evidence that the assassination of John F. Kennedy involved a conspiracy rather than a lone gunman, that entire sections of U.S. bookstores are devoted to that evidence.
In my opinion, the best – and fairly conclusive – evidence is the medical evidence concerning JFK’s hospital stay at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. The medical evidence is thoroughly detailed in James Lifton’s book, “Best Evidence” and summarized in my DU post of 2004. It all boils down to whether the bullets causing the two wounds (the throat wound and the fatal head wound) came from the back or the front. If they both came from the back, that is consistent with the lone gunman theory, since the presumed assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was (supposedly) found in a book depository that faced the President from the back, shortly after the assassination. But if either of the bullets came from the front (in the direction of the grassy knoll), then the lone gunman theory is clearly impossible, since nobody claims that Oswald was facing toward the President’s front at the time of the shooting.
As a matter of fact, both of the bullets came from the front. Nine physicians and a nurse who treated the President at Parkland hospital are quoted as saying that the fatal wound produced a large hole (5-7 centimeters by one account) in the back right side of the head. The skull at the back of the head was noted to have “exploded outwards”. All of the physicians characterized this wound as an exit wound, largely because exit wounds are almost always considerably larger and more destructive than entrance wounds. Those who saw the throat wound (four physicians plus the nurse) also characterized that wound as coming from the front.
But this medical evidence and much much more was virtually ignored, both by the Warren Commission and by a Senate Committee that later investigated the assassination in the 1970s. Therefore, official U.S. history says that JFK was assassinated by a lone gunman. Believing that a carefully constructed conspiracy was employed to assassinate a popular U.S. president would tend to make the American people angry and suspicious of authority.
Operation Northwoods was a 1962 plan by the American military, led by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Lyman Lemnitzer, to incite a war against Cuba. It involved various false flag actions, including such terrorist activities as the shooting down of an American passenger plane by the U.S. military, which would be blamed on Cuba. Fortunately, the American Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, vetoed the plan. The documentation of this plan was first published in 1998.
Though this operation had to be officially acknowledged by the U.S. government, you hardly ever hear it mentioned – especially in light of the 9/11 attacks on our country, which appear to some as highly reminiscent of Operation Northwoods. Few Americans have ever heard of it. It would seriously tarnish the image of our country to know that our own government planned to kill U.S. citizens in order to incite a war. I wonder if it’s ever appeared in a standard U.S. history textbook.
The “October Surprise” of 1980
Investigative journalist Robert Parry conducted extensive investigations and produced a documentary that suggested that the Reagan/Bush presidential campaign team of 1980 negotiated with the Iranian government to postpone the release of their American hostages prior to the 1980 U.S. presidential election. The evidence included more than two dozen witnesses to the negotiations and documentary evidence of shipments of U.S. arms to Iran. The purpose of the plot was to embarrass the Carter administration, thus ensuring a Reagan/Bush victory over then President Carter.
Not surprisingly, Parry’s investigation and allegations were “debunked” in two articles, one by The New Republic and one by Newsweek, which purported to have found an alibi for William Casey, the Reagan/Bush campaign chairman, regarding his role in the plot. But Parry spoke with participants at the conference that had been established for Casey’s alibi, and they all agreed that Casey was not there, thus debunking the alibi. So we have several conference participants versus a single alibi. No matter. Neither the New Republic nor Newsweek ever issued a retraction.
Nevertheless a special House Task Force was created in 1992, which was chaired by Lee Hamilton (the same one who co-chaired the 9-11 Commission), who was well known for his “bi-partisanship”. While acknowledging that the original alibi, which placed Casey in London on July 28, 1980, was bogus, the Committee proceeded to find another alibi, this one placing Casey in Bohemian Grove, California, during the weekend of July 26th. Documentary evidence was later found to debunk that alibi as well, but the House Task Force refused to acknowledge that. Therefore, the House Task Force report of January 13, 1993, purportedly debunked the October Surprise Conspiracy theory for all time.
But shortly after the House Task Force shipped their report off to the printers, a cable report based on KGB sources arrived from Moscow that supported the October Surprise Conspiracy. Consequently, a Democratic member of the task force, Mervyn Dymally, submitted a dissent complaining of many factors that combined to lead the Task Force to exonerate the Reagan/Bush team on extremely shaky grounds. Lee Hamilton threatened Dymally and then had some of Dymally’s staff fired, which convinced Dymally to withdraw his dissent. See this post for a much more detailed description of this sordid episode.
Thus it is that the successful efforts of a presidential campaign to sabotage a presidential election by prolonging the release of American hostages held by a foreign government – a clear act of treason – simply never happened. I doubt that you will find this episode in any standard American history textbook. After all, it would be extremely upsetting to many Americans to be made aware that the election of two future presidents was made possible through an act of treason.
Buying U.S. politicians
All but the most naïve of the American citizenry know that the wealthy and powerful in our country routinely influence our local and national elections through huge campaign contributions. And they also know that they are generally well rewarded for their “contributions”. And they also know that bribery is presumably against the law in our country. Yet, on the rare occasion that our politicians are actually accused of bribery, our news media makes a great big deal over it, as if bribery is actually a rare event in American politics. I discuss this situation in more detail in this post.
There are a few dots to connect here, but any reasonable assessment of American politics tells us that bribery is routinely used to buy and sell elections in our country. So routine is it that it is actually built into our system and legalized. But that fact is never overtly spoken of. To do so would imply that our system of government is as much or more an aristocracy than it is a democracy. And that would contradict what we learn in school.
On July 19th, 1979, a popular uprising by the revolutionary Sandinista Party overthrew the repressive dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza. Former members of Somoza's National Guards and other war criminals formed in opposition to the Sandanistas, and they became known as the Contras. Supporting the Contras in their efforts to take over Nicaragua was one of the primary goals of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, despite abundant evidence of repeated atrocities perpetrated by the Contras.
In addition to the Reagan administration funding the Contras, it used the CIA to assist them in their carnage, including the mining of Nicaragua’s harbors. By the mid-1980s, the Contra war had produced 14,000 casualties, including 3,000 dead children and adolescents, and 6,000 children had become war orphans.
The Boland Amendments were a series of laws passed by Congress beginning in 1982 for the purpose of cutting off funding and other support to the Contras by the Reagan administration. The Reagan administration basically ignored the orders of Congress, continuing to fund and support the Contras through various means, most notoriously by selling military weapons to Iran in return for assistance in obtaining the release of American hostages in Lebanon – a scandal that became known as Iran-Contra.
Investigations were later held into this scandal, with consequent indictments of a long list of high level Reagan administration officials, most notably including the Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, who was later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. However, neither the President nor the Vice President was ever fully investigated in connection with Iran Contra, nor did Congress ever attempt to impeach them for their role in the scandal.
As Jonathan Turley has facetiously implied, since there were no charges or even an attempted impeachment against President Reagan, as far as our history is concerned the President committed no crime. Either the Iran-Contra scandal never occurred, or if it did, it wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
The 9/11 attacks
There are a ton of inconsistencies in the 9/11 Commission’s version of how a nation that spent hundreds of billions of dollars annually on its military was unable to defend itself against a bunch of terrorists flying airplanes. The best book I’ve read on the subject is “The 9/11 Commission Report – Omissions and Distortions” by David Ray Griffin. I discuss some of the many problems with the 9/11 Commission’s version of events here.
One of the best bits of supporting evidence that the U.S. military was ordered to stand down and allow the attacks to proceed without opposition involves the unhindered attack on the Pentagon by Flight 77. The testimony before the 9/11 Commission of Norman Minetta, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, regarding a meeting he was having with Dick Cheney shortly before the Pentagon was hit, is especially perplexing. Here is Mineta’s account:
This testimony is on record. Nobody can say that it didn’t happen. Yet, the 9/11 Commission virtually ignores it in their assessment of the evidence. Unbelievably, they interpret Mineta’s testimony to indicate that Cheney had ordered the shooting down of Flight 77. But if that was the case, then why wasn’t it shot down, and even more important, why would NORAD claim that it hadn’t even been notified about Flight 77 until four minutes before the Pentagon was hit?
The 9/11 attack on our country has gone down in official U.S. history as simply being an attack by foreign terrorists, with no complicity on the part of our own government, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
The 2000 and 2004 presidential elections
The 537 vote presidential election victory of 2000 for George W. Bush over Al Gore was stolen by a large number of means. In one of the most corrupt decisions in U.S. Supreme Court history, the vote counting was stopped before the votes had been fully recounted. A later recount of the votes by a consortium of newspapers showed a Gore victory of about 29 thousand votes. In addition, the Florida Governor’s office used a computer program to illegally disenfranchise tens of thousands of mostly black and Democratic voters. And there was much more, which you can read about in this post.
In 2004, George Bush was again declared the winner, despite exit polls that showed John Kerry to have won a substantial popular and electoral vote victory, as well as a good deal of evidence of electronic vote switching that favored Bush. In testimony before the Democratic staff of the House Judiciary Committee, computer programmer Clint Curtis said that he was requested in 2000 by Republican operative Tom Feeney to “develop a prototype of a voting program that could alter the vote tabulation in an election and be undetectable”. The investigator who looked into Curtis’ allegations appeared to have made great headway in his investigation shortly before he unfortunately committed “suicide” under very suspicious circumstances. And most important of all, there was a preponderance of evidence that hundreds of thousands of mostly Democratic voters were illegally scrubbed from the voter rolls in Ohio – the state that gave the election to Bush by a margin far smaller than the numbers of disenfranchised voters.
Yet, according to official U.S. history, none of this ever happened. To acknowledge any of this would undermine faith in U.S. democracy.
Iraqi Civilian deaths in the Iraq War and occupation
The U.S. news media rarely mentions Iraqi civilian deaths that occurred during our Iraq War and occupation. When they do, it is always based on ridiculously low estimates. When the Bush administration was asked about this they said “We don’t do body counts”. Since they don’t do body counts, there is only one reliable way to estimate the number of dead Iraqis – a scientific study.
The latest scientific study estimates that there have been over one million Iraqi deaths due to the American invasion and occupation. Most of these have been violent deaths, and most have been civilians. The death toll amounts to about 4% of the total Iraqi population before the war.
But our government has never acknowledged this. How would such an acknowledgment comport with the claim that a major purpose of the Iraq invasion was to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people?
Bush administration crimes
The crimes of the Bush administration are numerous. The quickest way to summarize them is to look at the 35 articles of impeachment that Dennis Kucinich presented to the U.S. House of Representatives:
Articles I – XIII: Creating a propaganda campaign and lying to the American people and Congress in order to build a false case for war against Iraq; then invading and occupying Iraq, in violation of U.S. and international law and in the absence of any good reason whatsoever; then failing to provide our troops with the body armor they needed, falsifying accounts of US troop deaths, and establishing permanent military bases in Iraq.
Article XIV: Exposing a covert CIA agent.
Articles XV-XVI: Providing immunity from prosecution to criminal contractors in Iraq and recklessly wasting US tax dollars on contractors in Iraq.
Articles XVII-XX: Indefinitely detaining our prisoners, including children, without charges or any legal rights, torturing them, and kidnapping people and transporting them to other countries to be tortured.
Article XXI: Lying to the American people and Congress, with the goal of overthrowing the Iranian government.
Article XXII: Creating secret laws.
Article XXIII: Violating the Posse Comitatus Act
Articles XXIV – XXV: Spying on American citizens in violation of our 4th Amendment.
Article XXVI: Announcing intent to violate duly enacted laws with signing statements.
Article XXVII: Failure to comply with Congressional subpoenas.
Article XXVIII - XXIX: Tampering with free and fair elections and corruption of the administration of justice.
Article XXX: Misleading Congress and the American people in an attempt to destroy Medicare.
Article XXXI: Failure to plan for or adequately respond to Hurricane Katrina.
Article XXXII: Obstructing efforts to address global climate change.
Article XXXIII - XXXV: Failure to respond to the 9/11 attacks on our country; then endangering the health of first responders and obstructing investigation into the attacks.
That brings us back to Jonathan Turley’s question: “If Bush and Cheney commit war crimes and everyone knows it, but does nothing, are they still crimes?” And the answer is, no they are not crimes. Because if they are crimes, then surely somebody would prosecute them – except in some sort of Orwellian society where “Nobody is above the law”, and yet if you are a U.S. president there in no crime that warrants prosecution.
Where we are now
The powers that be have so many ways to control us. First and foremost, they shove their own version of reality down our throats – the one that they believe will keep us placid and accepting of the status quo. Since the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which facilitated corporate monopoly control over the news media, it became much easier for them to do this – although now the Internet has gone a long way towards counteracting that power.
They also do it through our school system. In November 1994, the National Council for History Standards (NCHS) proposed National Standards for United States History, as voluntary guidelines for national curricula in history for grades 5-12. As explained by Gary Nash, who led the effort, these standards were meant “to provide students with a more comprehensive, challenging, and thought-provoking education in the nation's public schools”, and included “a new framework for critical thinking and active learning” and “repeated references to primary documents that would allow students to read and hear authentic voices from the past”. That was too much for those who preferred a sanitized version of U.S. history. Lynn Cheney’s criticism of the document as containing “multicultural excess”, a “grim and gloomy portrayal of American history”, “a politicized history”, and a disparaging of the West, was typical. The U.S. Senate rejected the document in 1995 by a vote of 99-1.
Those of us who question the sanitized version of history are called “conspiracy theorists”, in the hope of marginalizing us and thereby preventing us from spreading our suspicions to normal people. The vast majority of our politicians take great care to avoid having the “conspiracy theorist” label heaped on them.
Many millions of Americans are now very upset by the fact that the Obama administration has expressed little or no interest in prosecuting the Bush administration for its unprecedented criminal activity. We have pointed out that if the perpetrators of those crimes, including Bush and Cheney, are not held accountable for them, we will be setting a terrible precedence that will enable future presidents to do something similar. The ultimate effect will be to have a society in which high government officials operate beyond the law – in others words, a dictatorship.
The complete truth is a little more complicated than that. Allowing the Bush administration to get away with their crimes will not be setting a precedent, since that precedent has already been set. What it will do is extend an existing precedent to unprecedented levels – levels so high that they could hardly have been imagined by the framers of our Constitution. What we have now is an opportunity to reverse that terrible precedent.
If our elected leaders don’t show much interest in doing that, then it’s up to the American people to demand that they do so. If the American people fail to do that, then they will continue to live with the sanitized version of history that makes them feel so comfortable that they are willing to close their eyes and their minds rather than face reality as it is. I believe that in that case there will be terrible consequences to pay – if not now, then not too far in the future.